Giordano Bruno’s cowl is covered in snow and yesterday there were only two stalls open on the market in Campo de’ Fiori. All the nearby newsagents were closed and naturally, my Saturday treat of a paper copy of the Economist and IHT did not happen.
Rome is covered in snow and along with the white stuff, there is a heavy covering of polemics; the streets are silent but there is the strident sound of bucks being passed. For those of us lucky enough to be at home, warm and with a full fridge and storecupboard and with nothing pressing to force us outside we can enjoy the once in a generation view of ancient and ecclesiastic monuments in alpine garb.
We had had a week’s warning that snow and cold weather were coming and on Friday morning I thought I would be very clever and do some chores in the country, buy fruit and vegetables, wine and supermarket shopping. And be back home before the snow arrived in late afternoon… the rain began at about midday but all was fine until we reached a short but steep hill. The rain turned to sleet and then snow and after a climb of 50 metres it was clear that a car with summer tyres was not going to make it. We retreated and did the shopping. One of the stops was at a newish greengrocer, a Moroccan (I think) who sells fruit which is as good as or better than the supermarket, most of it for either €1.00 or €0.50 per kilo, whatever it is, and at times when most other shops are closed. He is one tiny example of the effects of immigrant enterprise.
He offered me some strawberries on top the usual; I turned up my nose at the idea of strawberries in February “They taste of nothing”. “Try one” he said, offering me a succulent berry which even in the cold gave off a delicious perfume. The taste matched the smell and I bought half a dozen punnets.
The journey home was fraught; 50 km in four hours, much of it stopped while those in front tried to negotiate gentle inclines inappropriately shod. And then trying to do it myself, sliding everywhere and hoping not to careen into a similarly out of control neighbour. We were very lucky – many were not. Some spent 8 or 12 hours in trains or traffic jams. One train was stopped for a full 24 hours. Heavy lorries have been stopped on many motorways (a Bulgarian driver interviewed explained that in his country the roads worked perfectly down to -30° C. and ended with a dismissive “Italiya katastrof!”).
Not quite fair – it would be absurd to equip Rome for crises which happen every 27 years (the last serious snow was in 1987) and any city administration would be rightly accused of corruption if they kept snowploughs and chains for this type of emergency. We don’t live in Bulgaria… or St. Petersburg or Toronto.
But the level of lack of preparation was staggering. There was no salt or sand, or rather there was but no one knew where it was or how to apply it and when to apply it. So far it has not been very cold in town, only a little below freezing at night, so a little salt would have gone a long way.
Instead the mayor blamed the weather forecast. Like me he thought it would come later in the afternoon and that there would be less of it. But I was risking my car and my comfort for myself, he was risking the whole city. Classes were cancelled at all schools… but the schools were left open, increasing traffic and the difficulties when the snow did come.
It was a pathetic performance made worse by sniping between the mayor and the civil protection authority each blaming the other for not being prepared. No one said that it was “the wrong kind of snow” like British Rail in 1991 but they did blame the messenger. “The forecast was for 10-15 mm or rain” said the mayor. Apparently no one in the Campidoglio knew that a millimetre of water becomes a centimetre of snow if the temperature drops a few degrees. For a week, the whole country had been told that we would have a cold weekend. Once again, a little bit of thought would have made a lot of difference.
It was all very Roman (but not only) and for my part as one of the lucky ones, I have had strawberries and snow, a very un-Roman combination but all the more enjoyable for that.